Attitudes About Aging
#56 What's Yours?
Oh-Oh!!! Experts suggest that the way people think, talk, and write about aging may directly affect their health. Negative attitudes about aging held throughout life have detrimental, measurable consequences on one’s health.
Douglas La Beir, psychotherapist and writer, asks important questions regarding them.
The issue this raises for me is the need to identify what underlies and fuels the negative attitudes about getting older to begin with? What are the cultural, social, and other forces in our society that negative affect aging? Those are the issues that don't receive enough attention, in my view. They concern socially conditioned values, beliefs, and expectations that impact people’s sense of what they are living and working for; their purpose of life.
Based on his questions, I researched and wrote an article about the wealth of myths, stereotypes, and misinformation that abound in regard to aging. Basically,
Myths are authorless stories that are meant to teach a lesson or suggest something untrue, such as black cats are evil. Not true! I have the sweetest, most loving black cat imaginable.
Stereotypes are unfair and untrue beliefs that folks have about all people or things with a particular characteristic, such as all black cats are evil.
Misinformation is deliberately used to deceive people by using false or inaccurate information, such as all black cats are evil because they love Siamese kittens.
According to Psychology Today, researchers found that when people internalize negative stereotypes, they may expect to perform poorly on tasks associated with the label. In other words, the stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy - the individual's expectations eventually result in another person or entity acting in ways that confirm the expectations.
Researchers also noted that stereotypes portraying older adults as being unhealthy can reduce their motivation to engage in health-promoting behavior. Finally, their research determined that replacing negative stereotypes with positive ones may help in some circumstances but it isn’t necessarily the solution.
Maybe, though, we put too much emphasis on our bodies and not enough on the thoughts and attitudes we put in our minds. We’re never too old to heal our attitudes or change our minds about how we view aging.
If adopting a positive attitude is a choice, it’s not always an easy one. Life's challenges can dampen a sunny perspective, and there may be days when there is no positivity in you. However, with practice, you can build a foundation that helps you shift negative thoughts and start noticing the benefits to your physical, mental, and emotional health - so they say.
But, maybe, it has to do with something else - like the set of beliefs that shape how people make sense of the world and themselves. A person’s mindset influences thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in any given situation.
So, your mindset is how you see the world around you, and your attitude is how you interact with the world according to how you see it.
I read two quotes about mindset and aging, which intrigued me.
The first quote was by Dr. Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. Dr. Langer says:
Our attitudes, ideas, and beliefs are at least as critical to health as our diets and our doctors. Yet many of us continue to believe the stereotypes of aging or health conditions as one of decline, decay, and inevitable loss. Our deference to doctors’ opinions, our willingness to accept diagnoses, even the way we talk about our illnesses—can drastically effect on our physical well-being. For those who want to age positively and healthily, it is smart to remember how much our mindset plays in the process.
This brief video offers an explanation of her thinking.
The second quote is by Dr. Catherine Sanderson, author of the book The Positive Shift: Mastering Mindset to Improve Life, Health and Longevity. Dr. Sanderson says:
In fact, people with a positive mindset about aging live about 7.5 years longer than those without. How we think about ourselves and the world around us dramatically impacts our happiness, health, how fast or slow we age, and even how long we live.
Taking it a step further, I like Dr. Carol Dweck’s research on fixed and growth mindsets. So much so that I wrote about it in the article Is The Cup Half Empty or Half Full? Basically, the differences are as follows:
For years, I resented the picture of older adults: chronically ill, slowing down, and unable to care for themselves. That was not going to be my life. So far, so good! At age 83, I am healthy, financially secure, and have a strong support system. Ready to go another 20 years - or more. I do subscribe to the growth mindset. It seems to set the stage for at least a more positive attitude - more often.
The bottom line seems to be that you can’t always change your situation, but you can change your attitude. Maybe, underlying your attitude is your mindset - the set of beliefs that shape how you make sense of the world and yourself. If you change your mindset, other things might change, as well. What do you think?